IPRT MEDIA ADVISORY
IPRT welcomes National Drugs Strategy recommendations on criminal convictions and alternative sanctions
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has today (Monday, 17th July 2017) welcomed the recognition by the National Drugs Strategy Steering Committee of the impact that criminal convictions can have on rehabilitation and access to housing, education, work and travel. IPRT particularly welcomes proposals to establish a working group to examine decriminalisation of minor drug possession, and the recommendation that existing spent convictions legislation should be reviewed in future. IPRT further welcomes the clear statement by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar T.D. that treating substance abuse and addictions as a public health issue “reduces crime because it rebuilds lives”.
IPRT was responding to the publication today of the National Drugs Strategy “Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery – a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025”. The Strategy includes a wide number of proposals of relevance to the penal system, detailed below.
Commenting today, Acting Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said:
“Substance misuse causes great harm to families and communities, but punishing addictions has not worked. A significant majority of people in Ireland’s prisons have addictions, at great cost to the State. Investment in prevention, intervention and drug treatment services in the community will lead to better outcomes for society, less crime and fewer people in prison.”
“The report recognises the negative impact that criminal convictions can have on rehabilitation. It is important that the working group on decriminalisation of minor drug possession reports within the timeline of 12 months. IPRT calls for the recommended review of spent convictions legislation to take place within that same timeline.”
“Wider spent convictions legislation will support rehabilitation, and allow people who have worked hard to overcome addictions or offending behaviour move on with their lives.”
The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 was commenced on 29th April 2016. While welcoming the legislation, IPRT was disappointed at its narrow application. Currently in Ireland, if you have two or more convictions for minor theft or drug offences, these remain on your record indefinitely. It amounts to lifelong punishment for mistakes made during chaotic or difficult periods in a person’s life.
For more information on IPRT’s work in this area, see: www.iprt.ie/spent-convictions
For further comment, contact IPRT Acting Executive Director, Fíona (Ní Chinnéide) on 01 874 1400 or 087 181 2990
1. The National Drugs Strategy: Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery 2017 – 2025 was launched on Monday 17th July 2017. See: http://health.gov.ie/blog/publications/reducing-harm-supporting-recovery-2017-2025/
The report identifies:
- Between 2009 and 2015, 5,450 cases received treatment in prison – more than 9% of the total treatment cases in the country during this period (p. 45)
- The need for overdose prevention strategies to reduce the incidence of both fatal and non-fatal overdose. Known risk-periods include release from prison and leaving drug-treatment (p. 51)
- The Strategic Review of Penal Policy recommendations in relation to the extension of Restorative Justice Programmes, the Adult Caution Scheme and Mandatory Minimum Sentencing (p. 55)
- The need to review operation of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 “to ensure that pathways to rehabilitation and a normal life for those who have committed offences during a period of drug use are not unduly affected by the system of recording of convictions” (p. 56)
- Wider justice reforms currently under consideration, including the proposal to establish a Community Court, an independent review of the Drug Treatment Court, and proposals for a Community Justice Intervention initiative (p. 56)
2. The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 was signed into law by President Higgins on 11th Feb 2016. See: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2016/act/4/enacted/en/pdf
Under the legislation, the following convictions may become spent after 7 years:
- Convictions for certain motoring and public order offences received in the district court, for which the sanction received was less than a 12-month custodial sentence or 24-month suspended sentence not subsequently revoked.
- One other conviction received in the district or circuit court, for which the sanction received was less than a 12-month custodial sentence or 24-month suspended sentence not subsequently revoked. Where two or more such convictions were received, none can become spent.
- A number of exclusions and conditions apply; convictions for sexual offences are excluded from the scheme.
3. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort. IPRT has been campaigning for a spent convictions scheme to be introduced in Ireland since 2006. See: www.iprt.ie/spent-convictions